Beyond Black and White: The grisaille exterior of the Netherlandish triptych
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis is a study of fifteenth- to mid sixteenth-century Netherlandish triptych exteriors, focusing on the so-called ‘grisaille’ technique. During this period, altarpieces produced in the Low Countries were typically constructed in a tripartite format with folding wings. This arrangement created the opportunity for pictorial representations on both sides of the hinged panels. Painters emphasized the distinction between the triptych’s two faces by executing the exteriors in a strikingly more subdued palette than the interiors. Particular iconographic subject matter was favoured for grisailles, which often depict the Annunciation or saints that reflect the triptych’s patronage or intended location. Jan van Eyck was notable for his emphasis on imitating stone statuary and created three important grisailles, one of which would influence triptych exteriors for years to come. Hieronymus Bosch, an artist working at the turn of the sixteenth century, also brought innovation to his grisailles, further expanding the potential of these reduced-palette paintings. This thesis examines the creative process involved in the production of grisailles and compares the underdrawings of triptych exteriors to those of the corresponding polychromatic interiors. In this study, grisailles are situated in their context as part of multifaceted artworks as well as within the broader church environment. New infrared reflectograms were generated using Queen’s OSIRIS infrared camera to document works in Belgium and the Netherlands. While some aspects of underdrawings could indicate that the figure was meant to imitate statuary, this distinction was not directly linked to triptych exteriors and was related instead to efforts at a trompe-l’oeil effect. Such attempts at mimicry can also be found on triptych interiors. Through a close examination of the underdrawing stage of these paintings it appears that this part of the creative process was not distinguished in any significant way from the underdrawings of triptych interiors.